Rugby Team Stranded on Small Caribbean Island

Twenty-four members of the Harvard Business School Rugby Team ventured on Winter Tour to tropical climates over President’s Day weekend. After four days of sun, sand, Rugby – and offshore banking – the gentlemen of HBS found themselves hopelessly stranded for two days and nights in the tropical paradises of Cayman Islands and South Beach, Florida, due to blizzards and airport closing back in Boston. Could HBS’ finest manage to survive without resorting to cannibalism? With the sheer volume of intellectual capital trapped away from Soldiers Field Road, would Dean Clark be forced to cancel classes? Or would the Rugby team bask in the glory of maintaining its perfect record of international play? This report, special to The Harbus, will reveal the answers to these exciting questions, and more. Here are excerpts from your team members’ personal journals, and an intriguing account of the harrowing adventure of the HBS Rugby Cayman Tour 2003.

Thursday, February 13th:
The Adventure Begins
“While of course I fully know that this was all in good spirit and meant to be funny, it’s a little tough for outsiders to understand a Rugger’s sense of humor.” – from the email journal of Ralf Scherschmidt (NJ)

Complimentary rum punch is enjoyed on Cayman Airways flights, thank God, since spoofing rounds won and lost on the trip down were getting expensive. Big losers included Nam Kry (OC), Josh Hall (OF) and lest we forget, Jorge O’Hara (OI). As HBS the Warriors arrived in the Caymans Thursday, Feb 13th, they were joined by Todd Bice (FAS) and Brian Connell (HBS ’02) on the island. These two stars of HBS team and club had been on the island since Tuesday arranging TV press conferences, banking receptions, and tours of financial ministries. Over three months had been spent preparing ground transportation, organizing charitable fund-raisers, and of course checking that dive resorts all operated to HBS Rugby international standards. The remaining half of team was able to make the late flight into Cayman Island, and was greeted at the airport by large crowds, mounting local publicity and media photographers. Members of the Cayman National Rugby Club, who used local knowledge to take the secret back route to the hotel, quickly whisked the team away from this frenzy.

The team’s hotel was located directly on world-famous Seven Mile Beach, equipped with pools, hot tubs and crystal blue ocean waters. That evening, the gents headed out on the town, beginning with solid karaoke performances at the Hard Rock Cafe. The grand finale of the evening was a rousing rendition of “Just a Gigolo” by the normally microphone-shy Derek Mendez (OD) who was joined on stage by the entire HBS team. Festivities continued on a local club, the Next Level, at which several Caymanians recognize players from the news media. Not content to call it a night when the lights come up, the entire team moves the party to the beach for an ocean swim and relax in the hot tub to loosen up before tomorrow’s rigorous schedule. Assuming classic leadership style, team Match Secretary Josh Hall (OF) makes use of U.S.

Navy diving background to direct teammates and fans from cutting their feet on the coral – or getting taken away by large tropical fish. Despite this, Hall himself is distracted by a large marine mammal for quite some time.

Friday, February 14th:
Dignitaries and Distinction
“Hey DD, I forgot to mention that Gertz changed his flight – he arrives in five minutes from Miami and needs you to pick him up from the airport” – Jorge O’Hara (OI), as recorded in the journal of DD

Friday’s agenda was filled with business meetings and networking, as the team invested a full day of vacation to seriously focus on the Financial Services industry and advanced presentation capabilities of the Cayman Islands and their financial district. Serving as student-athlete ambassadors from HBS, visits to Cayman National Bank, the Cayman Stock Exchange, and the Cayman Island Monetary Authority offered fascinating insight into the workings of the world’s fifth-largest financial hub. Highlights of the team’s arrival, visits to the financial district and news of the Rugby match were broadcast live on Cayman TV in time for Friday’s night’s events. Veteran PR spokesman Baron Hanson (FAS) not only recapped the business visits for the island audience, but the spirited back-row forward injected testy confidence regarding the upcoming match, a challenge the local news media was eager to broadcast.

After an exciting day of presentations and offshore discussions, the governor of the Cayman Islands, his Excellency Dinwiddy and his wife, Emma, hosted the team for afternoon tea and biscuits. Even in the beautiful Cayman Islands, few views can beat that of the governor’s mansion, situated right on the beachfront on Seven Mile Beach.

Regrettably, the team is unable to stay for the surely spectacular sunset, as the night’s social engagements begin calling with vigor.

The evening’s plans begin with a Valentine’s Day charity event hosted by the Rugby club at Stingers Poolside Cantina, a local hot spot situated adjacent to the team’s hotel, mere steps from the beach – how convenient. Tickets to the HBS Rugby Valentine event were sold (it’s true) and the team was able to raise over $500 for the local Battered Women’s Shelter of Cayman. One of HBS Rugby’s missions amidst the fun is to always give back to the local communities visited. The evening’ s events included a mock “Dating Game” in front of a packed house, in which team co-captain Julian Coulter (OG) selected one of three bachelorettes for a Sunday brunch date, and Eric Miller (HLS) was selected for a similar brunch date by a bachelorette from a pool of three contestants (including another not-so-eloquent member of the Rugby team). Meanwhile, the dance moves of Ralf Scherschmidt (NJ) were a hit with the local contingent of Canadian tourists.

Next up was the main event on the island, a live performance by “Nearly” Neil, the Canadian-born Neil Diamond impersonator. Never before has a fake Neil Diamond rocked the Caymans quite like this, and this author, who has seen the real Neil in concert several times, gives the show “two thumbs up.” In fact, he was so moved by the experience, and overcome by excitement that he began a performance of his own as the show wound down (despite the futile attempts by Nam Kry (OC) to stop him). He could not, however, recreate the excitement of Neil, real or fake. Still caught up in the excitement of the event, your fearless tour director took a Carango-esque wrong turn on the walk home, and despite wearing only one flip-flop (on the wrong foot) managed to traverse a good portion of the island before being set back on course by some friendly locals in a very expensive automobile.

Saturday, February 15th:
Magic Moments on the Rugby Pitch
“Would you like to kiss me on the veranda?” – Female HBS Rugby fan
“Actually, on the lips would be fine.” – DD (excerpted from DD’s diary)

Once Rugby game faces were on, the team caravanned to the Caymanian field, a magnificent pitch of fine green grass surrounded by palm trees. After overcoming their amazement that a Rugby pitch does not have to be a field of dirt, rocks, puddles, and goose poop, the Harvard men warmed up, stretched out and took the pitch to a cheering crowd of spectators. Warming up did not take long in the 85 degree tropical heat. Adding to this, HBS were wearing their black jerseys and black shorts, which had an unusually effective tendency to soak up the warmest of sunlight.

Despite the fact that the only Rugby the team has played since late October (in a 37-17 demolishing of MIT) has been 6:15 AM non-contact practices on the indoor basketball courts in Shad, HBS made a strong showing from the get-go. Early hits came from Roy Kim (NA), and Ken Ebbitt (NG), with outstanding scrumhalf work from Josh Hall (OF) at the penalty line. A superb try from Key Kiarie (OK) opened the scoring for HBS, and Jorge O’Hara (OI) added key field goal kicks for extra point
s. Notable play from the undersized Dan Gertsacov (NJ) and Daniel Morris (NF) anchored the forwards, as Chris Withers (NA) and Spence Kympton (ND) set the pace in the backs and made dazzling use of ball in hand.

Monstrous tackles by Bryan Vaniman (NF) and Nam Kry (OC) saved certain scores by the massive Cayman opposition. Long runs by co-captains Tony Carango (OA) and Shoney Katz (OC) secured vital field position for HBS. Todd Bice (FAS) made a fantastic Rugby debut under the watchful guidance of 8-man Baron Hanson (FAS). Halftime substitution Brendan Rauw (NF) managed a full thirty seconds of rugby before being sin-binned for a wicked clothesline-style neck raking that sent a Cayman player crumbling to the ground. Julian Coulter (OG) returned from a slight jaw injury to play a fierce second half and secure Man of the Match honors for HBS. Play of the day went to Derek Mendez (OD), as the crowd “oohed” and “awwed” at a spectacular catch along the sideline from a skip pass by Eric Miller (HLS) late in the first half.

When the dust settled, the final score read 34-0, and HBS had maintained its perfect record in international play this year. Not content to play only 80 minutes of rugby, HBS went back out on the pitch 20 minutes later to play the second game of a double-header. More tough-as-nails play led the way as Ken Ebbitt (NG) and Josh Hall (OF) pounded the opponents with bone-crushing hits, Roy Kim (NA) and Charles Macdonald (ND) took the ball straight through tackles, and team co-president Dave Miller (OB) used his patented “deceptively slow spin move” to evade the opposition. Despite a late failed attempt at a try by Mark Okerstrom (NE), when the final whistle blew the score was a much-closer 14-12, and HBS was still perfect in internationals for the year. Jorge O’Hara received Man of the Match honors for being an Irishman from Peru, as well as for his brilliant play in the nightclub.

The post-game festivities were graciously hosted by the Cayman Rugby Club. Fierce competitors on the pitch, we could not have asked for a friendlier group of hosts. Mostly ex-pats from Britain, Canada and Australia, the lads went out of their way to make HBS feel right at home.

After a traditional presentation, the HBS Rugby – Cayman Tour 2003 plaque was hung on the clubhouse walls, the teams exchanged songs and then danced late into the night, led by none other than Dave “get your groove on” Miller and Derek “Born to be Wild” Mendez.

Sunday, February 16th:
The Calm Before the Storm
RUMKKAKE – it’s a circular Camanian spice cake made with numerous shots of indigenous rum and real butter – usually given as a gift to a very special lady in the presence of her friends (from the diary of one Cayman Elvis, a cab driver and local club celebrity)

Sunday was a day of rest for the team, with members enjoying such varied activities as SCUBA diving, snorkeling at Stingray City, taking an island tour, or simply relaxing on the beach. Some took up an offer from the Cayman Rugby Club to revisit the clubhouse to watch Ireland vs.

Scotland Six Nations rugby match. “This is the first victory for Ireland at Murryfield in 18 years, a score of 36-6, I couldn’t be thrilled,” said Julian Coulter, enjoying the match with Dave Miller, Baron Hanson and the Caymanian team. The rest of the boys wrapped up from the previous afternoon’s Rugby doubleheader by relaxing on the beach and soaking up some rays, snorkeling, and hydrating.

For the certified divers on the team, a SCUBA trip to the world-famous North Wall dive site offered an opportunity to explore the sights around the world’s second-deepest ocean trench. Crystal-clear visibility highlighted the dives, as eagle rays, huge moray eels, and various other forms of marine life were seen cavorting among the beautiful coral and sponge formations.

Stingray City was also a popular destination for the team, a snorkeling spot offshore of the island which is known for its large population of Stingrays. Standing in waist-deep water on a sandbar, swimmers were able to hand-feed the rays as well as take their chances in carefully cradling the creatures.

Other island attractions included the turtle farm, rock formations at Hell, and relaxing on the beautiful sandy beaches. Capping off the day was a sunset beach BBQ hosted by the Cayman Rugby Club, complete with cold frosty beverages and an ample supply of rum punch. The nearby Canadian Embassy was saluted on more than one occasion by the team’s contingent of Canadians, while team Tour Director Derek Mendez made acquaintances with a contingent of US Airways employees, who deemed him a “perfect fit for the culture” after he cracked a few beers for them during several hours of partying together, despite his not being among the first round of offer letters sent out last month.

The beach partying continued into the night, with a special guest appearance by Foster the Lobster, a close personal friend of Bryan Vaniman’s (we’re just glad it wasn’t Scabs the Crabs). Songs were sung, and surprise tackling drills were held on the beach, but when the local authorities told the team to wrap it up for the night, everyone was happy to oblige. DD even demonstrated his environmental consciousness by personally recycling a beer bottle directly in front of the authorities.

Monday, February 17th: Stranded and Separated
“I’m sorry sir, Flight 478 from Fort Lauderdale to Boston has been cancelled.” – unknown AirTran employee

Depression began to set in early Monday morning as the team realized they would not be able to participate in the cherished case discussion method on Tuesday, or even possibly Wednesday. Spirits were lifted slightly when it was discovered that Dean Clark had declared Tuesday’s classes “optional” – believed to be due to the realization that without the strong intellectual capital possessed by the members of rugby team, class discussion across the campus would be pointless.

Not willing to give up so easily, the team immediately broke up into groups to facilitate case discussion in two primary locations: on the beach in the Caymans and also in South Beach. Topics of discussion for those of the team remaining on the island included NAFTA (especially U.S.-Canadian relations) and the real estate market in the Caymans.

For those who held case discussion in South Beach, topics included incentive systems as well as the economic crisis in Argentina. Notably, Key Kiarie and Nam Kry had a vigorous discussion about the speed at which cold frosty beverages can safely be consumed. In the end, we are happy to report that Nam won out.

Unfortunately, it soon became apparent that flights back to Boston would not be possible until at least Wednesday. After a brief period of mourning, group hugs, and a discussion of the lessons learned from “Tropical Beach Survival” in LEAD (most important item to keep: the bottle opener, of course), both groups checked into hotels for the night and held impromptu study groups for another set of case discussions on Tuesday.

Tuesday, February 18th: Reunited in South Beach
“The only food I’ve had in the past 48 hours has been three Doritos chips” – from the journal of Dave Miller (OB)

Suffering from severe depression and malnutrition, the two groups reunited into a team today, as the last remaining rugby players were rescued (nearly against their will) from the Cayman Islands. Still stuck in Florida, the rest of the team hosted a second day of case discussion on the beach – the “B” case, as it were.

Notable events of the day included construction of large “HELP” signs on the beach, carefully scouring the area for loose items of clothing to be used for a signal fire, and relaxing in the hotel bar during happy hour.

Dinner consisted of fine Peruvian food cooked up by Jorge O’Hara, and guest lecturer for the evening was the newly appointed Professor Eric Miller. While suffering through cocktails at locations from the Hotel Shelley to the world famous Delano, desperate, desperate calls for help were made via
cell phone to students back in Cambridge, as one Luis Sanchez (OD) can attest. Reinforcements were called in late at night in the hotel bar, but alas they never arrived.

Wednesday, February 19th: Rescued at long last!
“We almost lost Daniel Morris – he’d taken off a day before on ‘walk-a-bout’ – thank God he keenly mapped his way to and from the hotel counting palm trees.”- from the journal of Tony Carango (OA)

After staying up all night shivering in the warm tropical heat, the news on Wednesday morning was uplifting: a flight was departing for Boston – the team was saved! Jumps of joy and high fives accompanied a team-wide shout of relief, knowing we would finally be rescued from this tropical paradise and returned to our proper homes in frigid Cambridge, MA. An uneventful plane ride home brought nothing but smiles and laughter from the boys of HBS Rugby as they returned to frolic in the winter playland and immerse themselves once again in their studies. The final chapter had finally been written in a rugby tour for the ages.

The HBS Rugby Club would like to extend special thanks to the following: Cayman Rugby Club, Cayman Comfort Suites, Cayman Airways, Cayman National Bank, Cayman Islands Stock Exchange, Cayman Islands Monetary Authority, His Excellency Governor Dinwiddy, Andrea Williams, Todd Bice, and, last, but not least, Nearly Neil.